More than 23,000 people applied to the Seattle Housing Authority’s (SHA) Section 8 lottery. They had less than a 1 in 10 chance to make it onto a years-long waiting list for the coveted voucher. The agency had just 2,000 slots on a waiting list for housing vouchers that provice people with a federal subsidy to rent in any neighborhood.
It is certain that the 2,000 people who won a so-called lottery will wait a long time to reap the rewards. Elected officials in Washington, D.C., failed to pass a budget, forcing automatic spending cuts across all federal programs. The Section 8 voucher program is one of the first programs to take a hit.
As a result, SHA will not issue new vouchers for the foreseeable future. The agency will hold onto any Section 8 vouchers until it’s clear just how bad the cuts are.
The hope is to cut Section 8 vouchers through attrition, rather than evict existing residents as a few housing authorities across the country have done.
“Each voucher that we don’t reissue is a cost savings to us in the short term,” said Michelle Ackermann, SHA spokesperson.
SHA had fewer than 400 people on a prior waiting list and had hoped to start issuing vouchers to the next 2,000 sometime this year. But SHA froze its Section 8 vouchers earlier this year, anticipating cuts. Normally, vouchers are available whenever an existing family leaves the Section 8 program.
Many other housing authorities have also put vouchers on hold. The King County Housing Authority recently stopped reissuing vouchers to the thousands of people on its waiting list. Housing authorities across the country are facing the same problem, said Ben Miksch, a housing advocate at the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Section 8 vouchers are the canary in the coal mine for housing authorities, he said. There are many more cuts to come as Housing and Urban Development slashes funding to operating expenses and grants.
“As the funding works its way through the system, these effects are going to become much more apparent in the community,” he said.
Housing authorities will apply for project grants, which will face the same 5 percent funding cut as other federal programs, this fall.
It’s still unknown how federal budget cuts will come to pass. Ackermann said the projections change on a daily basis.
“There’s just too much uncertainty about the budget numbers coming out of D.C.,” she said.